Opponents Attack Johnson’s Character as U.K. Election Looms

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Chulmleigh College in Chulmleigh, Britain, Thursday, as he campaigns in Devon ahead of the upcoming general election. (Dan Kitwood Pool via Reuters)

Britain’s opposition parties intensified attacks on Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday with two weeks to go until election day, with polls suggesting the U.K. leader’s Conservatives have a substantial lead.

Jo Swinson, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, used a speech in London to argue that Johnson has dragged the office of prime minister “through the mud.” She declared that Johnson can’t be trusted because he vowed to lead Britain out of the European Union by Oct. 31 – and didn’t – and said he would never ask the EU to delay Brexit – but did.

“Boris Johnson only cares about Boris Johnson. He will do whatever it takes, sacrifice whatever or whoever is needed to get what he wants,” she said. “This is a man who decided which side to support in the EU referendum by game-playing what would be most likely to get him the keys to Number 10.”

Johnson faced further criticism for not accepting an invitation to an evening debate on the subject of climate change. Driving home the point of his expected absence, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn chose to outline Labour’s environmental policies on Thursday, including a pledge for 10 new national parks.

Despite the positive polling, Treasury chief Sajid Javid insisted the party would fight against complacency. He used a visit to a facility that manufactures technology used in offshore energy to declare the party would fight for every vote.

“I’m not interested in any polls except the one that’s going to happen on December 12,” he said.

The attacks come as a respected think tank cast doubt on the spending pledges of both major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, concluding that neither was being honest with voters.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned it was “highly likely” that a Conservative government would end up spending more than the party’s platform implied, while Labour would not be able to deliver on a promise to raise investment and revenue without taxes beyond those already announced on the rich and on big business.

“Neither is a properly credible prospectus,’’ IFS director Paul Johnson said.

Parties court the approval of the IFS, seeking its imprimatur on their spending plans. But the think tank concluded the promises didn’t match the math.

The IFS analysis outlined the scope of the main parties’ drastically different views of the future, arguing that the choice between the Conservatives and Labour could “hardly be starker.’’ With the exception of health, the IFS concluded that public spending would be 14% lower in 2023-24 than it was when the Conservatives took office 2010-11.

“No more austerity perhaps, but an awful lot baked in,” the IFS’s Johnson said of the Tories.

Labour on the other hand, would raise both taxes and spending to peacetime highs. Labour has pledged huge and comprehensive undertakings, including an overhaul of substantial parts of the tax system and nationalizations.

“Labour would not be able to deliver investment spending increases on the scale they promise,’’ the IFS director said. “The public sector doesn’t have the capacity to ramp up that much, that fast.’’

Britons will vote Dec. 12 to fill all 650 seats in the House of Commons. Johnson wants to secure a majority in the election so he can push through the Brexit divorce deal he negotiated last month with the EU. Under the terms of that deal, the U.K. would leave the EU on Jan. 31 but remain in the European single market and the customs union until the end of 2020.

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